CEO Frank Blake makes it a point to meet face-to-face with new store managers.
Twenty-four newly promoted store managers sit in a classroom at Home Depot's corporate headquarters. They sport orange aprons and name tags, and they call out answers to questions about how to keep employees motivated.
The door opens. A man walks in. He's bald, with a ring of gray hair. He's wearing olive khakis and a button-down shirt and holds a rolled-up paper in one hand. The students break into spontaneous applause. Some snap pictures with their cell phones.
"It's good to see you all," Home Depot CEO Frank Blake says. "It's a great opportunity for me to talk to you a little bit."
Whether it's town halls or more intimate chats, CEOs long ago learned the benefits of face-time with their staffs. Many executives meet with employees here and there. But for more than two years, Blake has incorporated a face-to-face meeting with practically every class of newly minted store managers or assistant managers at Atlanta-based Home Depot.
The idea behind such CEO exposure is two-way communication. Employees get a chance to hear about a company's mission and strategy straight from the top. For Blake and other executives, such regular meetings can also provide ground-level feedback they might not otherwise get.
Blake talks off the cuff about how the housing crisis has been worse than during the Great Depression. About Home Depot's sales growth, even in the troubled housing market. About the opportunity each of them has with Home Depot.
He offers them all advice for their new jobs as store managers. "Pick something that's broken and fix it," he tells the managers. "You'll surprise the ... [heck] out of people."
Blake stops in on the classes unannounced. He asks the new managers and assistants what the company makes them do that wastes their time. Then he opens it up to questions.
"It kind of humanizes the CEO," said Sloan Weitzel, director of business development for Duke Corporate Education. "It definitely sets the sense of 'Wow, we're really important to the organization.' "
Employees who have that kind of interaction with chief executives are more likely to understand and believe in the company strategy, Weitzel said.
But there are risks. If a CEO is stiff or off-putting, the plan can backfire, Weitzel said.
That doesn't seem to be a problem for Blake, who sits in on one to four classes a week.
"The fact that he would take the time to talk to us, instead of just looking at us like subordinates ..." said Doug Curtright, a 10-year Home Depot employee and a new manager in St. Louis. "It was probably one of the most important things out of the entire week."